The National Association of Scholars commends the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees for its recent resolution affirming the Chicago principles and the Kalven Committee Report. UNC had previously adopted the Chicago principles, codifying its commitment to free expression. The Kalven Committee Report clarifies these principles by noting that free expression is imperiled when the university takes stances on controversial political and social issues. By affirming it, UNC is the first university besides the University of Chicago to adopt both sets of principles. We hope that other institutions will follow UNC’s lead.
Universities around the country face enormous pressure to engage in institutional political activism. Students and professors regularly petition for official proclamations from their institutions on a variety of political issues, from abortion to gun control to immigration. Often, administrators happily oblige, as was made evident by the flurry of university statements decrying the Dobbs decision. This, of course, is part of a larger trend—one long documented by the National Association of Scholars—of universities replacing their core mission, the pursuit of truth, with the pursuit of “social justice.”
UNC is by no means exempt from this trend. As the National Association of Scholars previously reported, many academic units within the university have effectively embraced social justice activism—along with de facto ideological litmus tests for promotion and tenure in the form of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements and evaluations. At UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health, the Department of Maternal and Child Health recently illustrated the impetus for a policy on institutional neutrality. In June, the department released a statement on Dobbs, which stated that “The decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24 has profound negative implications for the health of the populations that the Department of Maternal and Child Health is dedicated to serving – women and pregnant people, children, and families.”
The Kalven Committee Report is unequivocal about such statements. The university, it notes, “cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.” By affirming the report, UNC has taken a step toward restoring the university’s true mission: the pursuit of truth. It is a timely and laudable step, and we hope the university’s administration follows through with vigor and conviction.